Like OxyContin and morphine, fentanyl is a prescription opioid pain reliever, and also the newest and most worrisome wave in the opioid chronicles. The highly addictive drug is approximately 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine. However, because of its highly addictive properties, most health care providers hesitate to use it except in cases of extreme pain that cannot be alleviated with other narcotics. As addicts build a tolerance to heroin and other powerful drugs, many will turn to this dangerous substance.
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid originally developed to manage pain in cancer patients—most health care providers reserve this drug for patients who live with terminal cancer or who are just out of surgery. It is usually prescribed in the form of patches or lozenges.
Because of its potency, many people question whether fentanyl is an opiate; the short answer is yes. However, fentanyl is far more potent than any other prescription painkiller and thus far more addictive. The short intense high accompanied by temporary feelings of euphoria makes fentanyl attractive to abusers, making the drug highly sought after for recreational usage. In recent years, heroin users have turned to fentanyl for a stronger high, and illegal drug makers often lace their products, including heroin and cocaine, with the drug. Common street names for the drug include “China Girl,” “Dance Fever” and “Tango & Cash.”
Like many opioids, including methamphetamine, cocaine and OxyContin, fentanyl is classified as a Schedule II substance. Schedule II drugs have a high potential for abuse, which can lead to severe physical and/or psychological dependence.
The Centers for Disease Control has suggested a multi-tiered approach with medical examiners and coroners, law enforcement and public health departments to identify regions that have high occurrences of fentanyl overdose in an effort to curb the epidemic.
Fentanyl pills, patches, powders and other forms of the substance can render adverse side effects, even when used as directed. These include drowsiness, constipation, nausea, vomiting, headache and lightheadedness. However, the effects become more pronounced and dangerous when the drug is misused.
Initial symptoms of fentanyl ingestion are similar to those of a heroin and may include intense feelings of euphoria and a sense of relaxation. However, as a user begins to build a tolerance to the opioid, the feelings of euphoria decrease in intensity and may be replaced by the following symptoms:
Fentanyl is dangerous to a person with a tolerance for opioids; however, the risk for overdose increases exponentially for someone without a tolerance for the drug.
Withdrawal from fentanyl is an uncomfortable and painful experience. Symptoms of withdrawal often begin within 12 hours of the last use and can continue for a week or longer. During this period, an individual may experience the following:
Because of the pain associated with fentanyl withdrawal, many users give up. Depending on a person’s level of dependency, withdrawal can be life-threatening, which is why individuals should opt for supervised detox.
There has been a recent spike of fentanyl overdoses, mostly attributed to illicit street dealers selling fentanyl-laced drugs to unsuspecting users. Unfortunately, overdoses are not uncommon, even for those with a tolerance. Naloxone can be used to combat the effects of fentanyl overdose, and multiple doses are often needed because the drug’s potency. Individuals are at risk of overdose when using the drug as prescribed, but the risk goes up when a person abuses the drug or mixes it with other substances, such as alcohol, other opioids or other illicit substances. Signs of an overdose include:
Like with other opioid addictions, effective fentanyl addiction treatment involves a multifaceted approach. Treatment centers often use medication-assisted treatment, counseling, behavioral therapy and life-coaching to safely detox individuals, identify their reasons for abusing the drug in the first place and get them back on the path to a healthy, drug-free lifestyle. Monitored detox and long-term therapy is recommended to help addicts build a resistance to relapse on the drug.
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